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Football's magical ability to spark a park chat with an elderly stranger

PUBLISHED: 11:02 09 June 2019 | UPDATED: 11:02 09 June 2019

England v Hungary
Jubilant Hungarians Ferenc Puskas (left) and goalkeeper Geller celebrate victory over England at Wembley.
25th November 1953

tne

England v Hungary Jubilant Hungarians Ferenc Puskas (left) and goalkeeper Geller celebrate victory over England at Wembley. 25th November 1953 tne

©2004 TopFoto

Nick Richards says its amazing when a chance encounter can end up with football chat and handshakes in just 10 minutes

Hungarian footballer Ferenc Puskas, one of Europe's big stars of the 1950s who was the topic of conversation for Nick Richards and a lovely strangerHungarian footballer Ferenc Puskas, one of Europe's big stars of the 1950s who was the topic of conversation for Nick Richards and a lovely stranger

It was the cheeky sparkle in his eyes that made me want to stop and chat to a complete stranger

Last week I was playing football in a Norwich park with my six-year-old son when he decided he wanted to go to the playground.

Walking a couple of metres in front of me with his head down and kicking a football, he inadvertently walked across the path of a pensioner.

I smiled at the man and apologised but he would hear none of it. Luckily for me, my son's wayward walking granted me a lovely chance encounter with a fantastic man.

"Future football star?" he asked in passing, pointing to my son.

I paused and replied.

"Yes, hopefully he can make me rich one day".

The conversation almost ended there but I'm so glad that it didn't - as always it was football that broke the ice and united two strangers from a different generation. The man wanted to chat so I stopped too. At first we talked about how much footballers earn these days and then he told me a bit about his life.

He told me he was a massive sports fan who loved football 
and cricket and he then started to tell me about a book he was reading.

"I don't know how much you know about football," he said. "But it's about this old Hungarian footballer."

"Puskas?" I enquired.

His eyes lit up.

"Blimey," came his instant reply. "I'm impressed you know about Puskas."

He looked like he was going to explode in joy when I told him I knew he'd played for Hungarian side Honved.

"Give over!" came the reply. "You know that too?"

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When I told him he played in the famous Hungary team that beat England 6-3 at Wembley in 1953 he was positively beaming from ear to ear.

He had a lovely northern accent and I asked where he was from. He told me he was from Huddersfield and had watched them play as a youngster. He told me about the first time he saw them play against Aston Villa in the 1950s and how hard it was 
for the players heading and kicking the old footballs back then.

I told him football was a different game then, what with the 2-3-5 formation and he laughed. "You know about the 2-3-5 formation too?"

He seemed so impressed that I knew a bit about football and possibly even more so that I'd actually taken the time to stop and chat.

Talk of Huddersfield Town enabled me to drop in a mention of 1920s boss Herbert Chapman and the fact the club won three Division One titles in a row.

"Wow!" he said, "you know it all!"

I explained that I used to go and watch Norwich City regularly but since having children preferred to spend my weekends with them.

"Aye, it's not a bad trade though is it?" he retorted as we both watched my son on the climbing frame.

It was a wonderful thing to say.

He said he'd been to see The Canaries a few times and was impressed by how football was presented at Carrow Road. He said it was like going to the theatre now rather than in his youth when going to matches was often watching men in wet baggy kits running around on a terrible pitch.

I've seen a bit of the world in my life and from Turkey to Tasmania to Trieste to Tallinn I've had chats with strangers and the one thing that always comes up is football. I can't think of any other positive topic that we would have talked about apart perhaps from some bland observations about the weather.

We didn't moan about dog's mess or Brexit or the price of hummus, we just wanted to talk football as millions of men (and of course women) do on a daily basis.

We'd chatted for around 10 minutes and I could sense we both had warm admiration for each other. He said for a young man I knew loads about football. I told him I was 44 which he found incredible.

"You're 44?! And with such a baby face!"

As we parted, I held out my hand and asked his name. He told me, with a firm handshake, that it was Doug.

"I hope to bump into you in the park again one day," he said before delivering a sassy farewell line.

"In all my years I've never met anyone so knowledgeable about football as you.

"Apart from me that is."

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